WWE News WWE NEWS: Former ring announcer Justin Roberts questions sincerity of WWE's relationship with Connor the Crusher
Apr 2, 2015 - 10:57:47 PM
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About 12 hours before WWE inducted WWE fan Connor Michalek a/k/a Connor the Crusher into the WWE Hall of Fame, executive Stephanie McMahon tweeted a stunning quote from one of Twitter's founders at WWE's annual business partners meeting. Without providing context, Stephanie quoted co-founder Biz Stone that "philanthropy is the future of marketing" and "how brands are going to win."
The tweet was the impetus for former WWE ring announcer Justin Roberts to write a detailed blog on WWE's relationship with Connor, several months after being released from his contract. After "biting his tongue," Roberts says he decided to publicly question whether Connor's Cure and Connor's Hall of Fame induction was "driven by sincerity and not strategy."
After detailing the entire relationship between WWE and Connor step-by-step, which Roberts noted he was a big part of during his time in WWE, Roberts concluded: "I watched the Hall of Fame and cried my eyes out. I bit my tongue and swallowed my pride for a long time, hoping everything stemmed from the kindness of their hearts. I thank all of the talent and employees who did and still do everything to help people, out of their kindness and not for business purposes. When I was reading Twitter this weekend, I felt like I was punched in the gut. Despite rewriting the story and using it to pat themselves on the back for being a standup organization, I wish Connor’s Cure and Connor’s induction into the Hall of Fame were driven by sincerity and not strategy. But sadly, it looks like they are just part of the 'philanthropic' future of marketing."
Inside Roberts's blog was his assertion of how WWE "re-wrote the story," whether it was to serve a larger purpose of marketing WWE corporately or sincerely raising awareness for pediatric brain research. Roberts pointed to the back-story on the video packages that WWE airs at house shows, which features Stephanie crying when talking about Connor, as why he questions the sincerity.
Excerpt from Roberts's blog:
"Stephanie told me that she wanted to put together an internal video for the employees of the company, to see the effect WWE has on people. The cameras recorded Connor at the arena, during WrestleMania and a producer would be calling me to discuss. I thought it was a great idea, even though I figured that it wasn’t just for the employees. I assumed it would make its way out to the public as well. I was okay with that; it was a beautiful story about making my friend happy. Connor and his interactions with the heroes who were helping him numb the pain, and all in the world of WWE. I just didn’t realize that when they retold this story, it was going to become just like those other reality-inspired storylines I mentioned earlier.
"The next week came and went. The plan changed and only Stephanie and Daniel Bryan were interviewed. Stephanie was generous to Connor. Daniel was always good to him when they were face to face at the arenas. Daniel is a quality person and incredible performer. I feel bad that the company put him in a position where people on the outside might assume they were closer than they were.
"When the video came out, I was surprised, maybe more surprised than I should have been, to discover that reality was not a part of the story. The company told the story the way they wanted it to be told. And then I remembered: that’s just what the company does - it tells stories. Maybe I experienced this one too personally to see it distorted, but it was not easy to take.
"Connor fought a hell of a battle and eventually, the battle ended and he was laid to rest. I found myself Googling stories about him and finding pictures and videos of his wonderful community and how he obviously touched them as well. They all supported him, as did the Pittsburgh Pirates. This little eight-year-old touched more people in his short time than most will in a lifetime.
"Triple H played the video at the arena for the talent to see. I couldn’t look at the screen, because I knew what happened the couple of times I watched from home, so I just listened. It was sad to watch, because my friend was gone. On top of that, it stung quite a bit to see how the company revised my history. Still, while the messages from Stephanie and Steve differed from the video, the smile on Connor’s face was the most meaningful thank you I could ever receive.
"When this whole thing started, I never wanted anything other than to help Connor. So I kept my mouth closed and went on with my work. The company decided to form an organization in Connor’s name. 'Connor’s Cure,' if you’d like to donate. After starting their own charity, they began playing that same video every night, at every event, which meant that as the ring announcer, I had to watch this video every single night and then talk about it afterwards to an audience of thousands of people. Between how sad it was not to have Connor anymore, and to be forced to watch a revised version of history - a story that was very personal and meaningful to me - the sting deepened. My boss even made a joke out of me making the announcement at the TV events. He would time me and threaten to cut my microphone if I did not finish the announcement fast enough. And this cavalier attitude was especially frustrating for me. After all, it was important to the company to show this video (bordering on propaganda), and the company wanted me to say something after - but make it snappy!
"The Hall of Fame video package prominently showed Connor and John Cena in front of a Make-A-Wish banner. I love that foundation and everything they do to help kids. I knew that they couldn’t help everyone and always tried to help anyone I could who may not have gone through the proper channels, but still needed a little help and were right there at the arena. It was tough when I had to remember, this is business, and to the company, this story had gone from a genuine one, to business. I know Connor would love knowing that he is a Hall of Famer and that he’s famous! I’m happy that the terrible last few months of his precious life were just a little better than how they could have been. I miss him and I am glad he was a big part of my life. I see a lot of him in his little brother Jackson and the witty things he says and does to make me laugh. I’m also happy that he is in the Hall of Fame. There’s no doubt he could have ended up there later in life. He was brave, tough, and an all around special person."
Roberts tied this in with how WWE "revised" one aspect of Ultimate Warrior's speech from last year's Hall of Fame as part of the "Warrior Award" presentation for Connor at this year's Hall of Fame. Roberts noted that Warrior drew attention to the behind-the-scenes WWE employees who make the operation work. However, he says WWE cut that portion out of how his speech is remembered.
"WWE told a version of the Ultimate Warrior’s story from last year. WWE told a version of Connor’s story. I just wish while telling stories, the company’s actions matched their words - they should actually care for the welfare of the people who actively care about the company and devote their lives to making it the best it can be," Roberts said, referencing WWE cutting long-time timekeeper Mark Yeaton as he approached his 30th Anniversary with WWE, as well as other employees. He also made a plea for the current WWE roster.
"I wish instead of just paying for rehab of former talents, WWE would take care of the current talent who are on the road nonstop, with no breaks unless they are already injured. I wish they would appreciate those employees who have been there for years and helped them to grow, rather than fire them after they’ve been there 'too long.'"
Roberts said he does not want to be painted as a "bitter, ex-employee." Rather, his frustration and unhappiness with WWE began "while I was there," highlighted by how he felt WWE took Connor's story and changed it.
As the point-contact with Connor's family early in their relationship with WWE, Roberts often-timed visited with Connor via Facetime or connected him to wrestlers at the arena whenever he was able to attend. Roberts says he wanted to help brighten Connor's day and inspire him in his battle with cancer. He feels WWE genuinely wanted to be part of helping Connor, too. But, was there a point where it moved away from genuine actions to, as Stephanie quoted on Saturday, "philanthropy is the future of marketing?" ...
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